Theology

 

“Hi, I’m Padre and I’m a theologian.”  It is worthy of a twelve-step programme, the feeling that there is a necessity to analyze, scrutinise, and generally complicate things. And faith is one of those things.

Yes, I am a theologian, and the route there was one which took me through the paths of ecclesiastical history, and historical theology.  So why?  I used to believe (though my certainty of this has much diminished) that in a world largely agnostic, and increasingly atheistic, that there was a need for there to be believers prepared to give answers on the skeptics own turf.  This is well and good, and has some merit.

The problem, as in many enterprises, is getting caught up in your own rhetoric.  I have spoken often about the problem of theo-babble.  The tendency to use specialist jargon when plain speaking will do. My students often ask “why do we need to know the term ‘teleological’ when design will do?”  Their point has validity.  I respond that they “need to know it so they can converse with other specialists.”  So, why?  I am sure most educated people can understand “design.”  Why do we need to discuss “existential manifestations of the charisma?”  It’s the “spiritual gifts!”

Paul was way ahead of us here.  In Colossians 2:2-3 he says  “My goal is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ,  in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (NIV).”  To know Christ, and in so knowing to have the full riches of complete understanding. Wow, how simple.  He continues “I tell you this so that no one may deceive you by fine-sounding arguments (verse 4).”

The gospel is simple: the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus the Son of God. Let’s keep it that way.  Feel free to join me at Theologians Anonymous; or better still with God’s people in assembly. That’s where you will find those “treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”

Padre

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Refuge

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Oasis at En Gedi

One of the themes in the worship this Sunday was refuge.  The dictionary says refuge is a noun meaning “a place or situation providing safety or shelter.”  In our praise we thanked God for being our refuge.  This world can be unkind, and harsh, but in God we have our place of safety and shelter.

This is not all “pie in the sky” stuff though.  In our fellowship with the people of God, we often find that same rest and comfort He promises us.  The listening ear, the kind word, and the gentle hug are outward signs of God’s promise of our inner peace.

Many of us from time to time feel this need to just run away and hide.  Sometimes in spiritual and emotional terms; and sometimes in practical terms.  David knew both of these.

David in Psalm 46:1-3 (KJV) says “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea; Though the waters thereof roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof.” God was to David that refuge and strength in times of trouble.

David also sought physical refuge as well.  A safe place (while never loosing is spiritual trust in God).  He found this at En Gedi. I Samuel 23:29 says: And David went up from there and lived in the strongholds of En Gedi (NIV).” This oasis stronghold is a wonderful symbol of God’s protection and provision in our lives.  In the midst of a desert, at the side of the Dead Sea, there is a cool palm-filled refuge with running water, fresh pools, waterfalls, and caves of providing cover and safety.  Food is abundant, and the surrounding mountains and desert make it a natural fortress.  No wonder David fled here. 

But, as I have said En Gedi is a symbol.  For God is all this and more.  “He makes us lie down in green pastures.” “He leads us by still waters.” “He is our refuge and strength.” Let us remember this next time we feel the need to run!

Padre

 

What The Bible Doesn’t Say (Part 1)

 

I have a friend who once preached for about 15 minutes on Hezekiah 2:15 “Cleanliness is next to godliness.”  What was his point; and what is mine?  Do we listen?  Do we know the Word? Are we just too polite to object? Or worse still, too unsure of ourselves to challenge that which isn’t right?

Sometimes our studies need to involve us in each of these questions.  Are we listening to the Word?  Not just from the pulpit, but from the Book itself?  Are our eyes open to what it is actually telling us?

I will begin here.  Sometimes there are things we assume are scriptural, that are not (this also fits in with our second question of “Do we know the Word?”. But, there are truths and teachings in the Bible that sometimes we need to look for!

One clear example of this is “the Trinity.”  If you Google it, check the concordances, or diligently search the Scriptures – you will NOT find the word in the Bible anywhere.  Does this mean it is one of those Hezekiah passages? NO. While the word does not appear, the reality of the concept is plain!

The baptism account of Jesus is the easiest starting point in our search for the Trinity. Matthew 3:16-17 tells us: As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased (NIV).” So Jesus is present – check, and the Spirit of God descends – check, and a voice from heaven speaks of a son, therefore the speaker is a parent [Father] – check.  Jesus (God the Son), the Voice (God the Father), and the dove-like spirit (God the Holy Spirit) are all evidenced. Here is God in a triune nature – or  the Trinity.  

Jesus makes several references to God as His Father [John 16:28; Matthew 26:39; John 5:19] and promises the coming of an advocate and comforter (The Spirit) [John 14:15-17]. These elements of fundamental Christian belief then are evident, even if the “word” doesn’t appear.  The idea does.

Far more interesting to me, but no more important, is the opening of both John’s Gospel, and the Book of Genesis.  Both are similar in their introduction.  John begins: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men (verses 1-4 NIV).” and Genesis: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. . . .”  Both speak of the creative act of God.  But John clearly states that the Word (Logos) was present with the creator, and was intimately connected with the creative act.  It is interesting that the Greek text uses Logos or Word to describe the “One who would become flesh and dwell among us (that is the Son).” It goes on to say that without Him, nothing that was made would have been made.  So look at Genesis, it is indeed Word that is involved in the creative act. Each of the six days of creation begin with God “saying” “Let there be . . .”.

Hebrew linguistics also adds to our search for the Trinity.  “In the beginning Elohim created . . . .” In Hebrew the ending of the word in an “IM” denotes masculine plurality.  Yet, the God who is creating – is creating as a singular being. In Judaism, the use of Elohim is always seen as a singular. Yet, this does not preclude that in its origins it was a recognition of the nature of God’s plural nature.

One rabbi [Singer] has argued that since it is understood to be a singular, and used as such, we should overlook the use of “IM”in this case as meaningless.  He goes on to discuss “the Hebrew word חַיִים (chayim), meaning “life.” Notice [he says] that this word contains the identical plural suffix “im,” as in Elohim, yet it repeatedly means “life”, in the singular, throughout the Bible” [see Genesis 27:46 and Job 10:12]. With all due respect to the rabbi, whose Hebrew must be infinitely better than mine; it ignores another key theological point: We are made in God’s image (Genesis 1:27) and this can be argued that we too are triune in nature having body, mind and spirit. This human creation passage returns us to our Elohim point.

The construction of previous verse in the Adam account is interesting: Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth (verse 26 NASV).” God (singular, yet with plural construction) creates (using the singular verb) “in Our (plural)” image.

So, what doesn’t the Bible say?  It doesn’t say “Trinity.” But, it does teach it!

Food for thought,

Padre

What Kind Of Friend Are You?

 

 

In the New Testament the term FRIEND is usually written as φίλος (philos) — and its variant φίλους (philous)  meaning “loving, friendly”  Its full meaning according to Strong is “dear, i.e. A friend; actively, fond.” Jesus regularly uses the term to describe His disciples and followers.

This is especially true in John 15:13f : Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you (NIV).”

The word Ἑταῖρε (Hetaire) is used in scripture 3 times, however, all are polite (almost as a nicety) but non-intimate. The term means “a companion, comrade, mate, or partner.”

It is used in Matthew 20:13, when the owner of the vineyard is speaking to a worker who is complaining about his wages: “Friend . . . are you envious because I am generous?” This is clearly not one with an intimate relationship. The term seems to be used, if anything, to soften a reprimand.

In the second occasion of use, a king uses the term to address a wedding guest who has arrived improperly attired for the occasion.  Again, we see the polite formal use of the word: “‘How did you get in here without wedding clothes, friend (MT 22:11 NIV).” There is no warmth here, as the ruler then orders the man to be bound and cast out.

It is with this background, that that we come its third and most interesting use in Matthew 26:49-50. “Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” and kissed him. Jesus replied, “Do what you came for, friend.” Then the men stepped forward, seized Jesus and arrested him (NIV).”  Judas was one of the twelve, he had been with him throughout the ministry, and he even carried the purse for the company (John 12:6, John 13:29).

There was an interesting article from some 25 years ago or so, which noted a parallel tothe usage Judas recieves, and how unreliable members ANC were addressed in South Africa.  While, I will venture no opinion on this reference, it does draw to attention that someone can be a partner in an enterprise or fellow-travellers in a movement, and still not be “friends” with their fellows, or in total league with the their goals and purposes.

Is it no less so in the church? Can we be partners, fellow -travellers or colleagues with the people of God, and still be non-intimates?  Are we Friends (in deep loving relationship) or Comrades (business associates)? Is our mind that of our Master and His people or of our own? Is our attitude: “What’s in it for me?” rather  “What can I do for you?”

Something to consider my φίλους.

Padre

 

 

By The Hair of My Chiney Chin Chin

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I have read several commentaries on Joseph’s summons before Pharaoh in Genesis 41. Most, understandably, focus on the main message of Joseph’s God-given gift of interpretation of dreams. But a few little words in the text also give us some cultural insights into the story.

When the butler concludes his account of Joseph’s abilities, Pharaoh orders that he (Joseph) be brought before him, in order to give the meaning of his perplexing dreams. Then verse 14 tells us: So Pharaoh sent for Joseph, and he was quickly brought from the dungeon. When he had shaved and changed his clothes, he came before Pharaoh (NIV).”

Why shave?  Several commentators (Ellicott; Jamieson-Fausset-Brown; and Cambridge) discuss the fact that facial hair was alien to Egyptian culture and was the mark of a foreigner, someone in mourning, or men of low social status.  So if nothing else Joseph who has been in captivity must clean himself (changing clothing and shaving) in order to go into the royal presence (Benson: “. . . that decency required it, to shave himself”).  But more likely he is removing from himself the stigma of servant or foreigner. Fried has suggested that he may even have been taking the physical attributes of a priest, or at least what Egyptians would recognize as “priestly.” He is here acting as a messenger of God.

Kyle Dunham expands on this point of view with the reflection that: “Joseph is later given what is likely an Egyptian cultic name, Zaphenath-Paneah (possibly meaning “The God Has Said: ‘He Will Live’”), and he is wedded to the daughter of an Egyptian priest (Gen 41:45).”  He is therefore, accepted as a prophet and priest by Pharaoh.

Okay, allowing that the beards worn by upper class Egyptians were fake ones (look closely at many of the pictures and statues of pharaohs and you will see that the strings and ties are included in the image, a style which reflects the god Osiris in the afterlife), a clean shaven man would be one who was ritually pure, and it was in this way that Joseph comes before the Egyptian king.  He is not speaking for himself, he is the spokesman of the God who is greater than those of all the assorted false-bearded priests (of Osiris or otherwise) who have already failed to explain the sheaves and the cows to Pharaoh.  He is a priest in the true sense (even by Egyptian standards – the most common priest term is “pure one” (w‘b) according to Fried). He is speaking the pure truth, of the true God.

The visual claim by Joseph, therefore is “I speak by an authority greater than myself, your priests, and even your gods.” Stopping to shave seems well worth the effort to make such a powerful point.  And the words themselves backed his claim, and Zaphenath-Paneah became great in all of Egypt, and in so doing saved the people of God.

So how about us?  Do we put forward a pure image to those we meet?  Do we take the time to think about how we conduct and present ourselves, and how that reflects on the God we serve?

Padre

 

 

Zerubbabel, A House Unfinished

In Ezra chapters 3-6 we find an account of the leadership of Zerubbabel. Cyrus the King of Persia, in fulfillment of the prophecy of Jeremiah, allows a party of Jews to return from captivity to Jerusalem to reestablish the Temple. This group is lead by Zerubbabel (meaning “Planted or Born in Babylon”) who has like many of his followers been born in exile.

This band returns to the Holy City along with many of the vessels and utensils of Solomon’s Temple and restore the altar. Joshua son of Jozadak and his fellow priests then begin to resume the sacrifices and offerings to God that had been made in the previous temple, and in accordance with the instructions of Moses.  Yet at this point, the House itself has yet to be restored.

Zerubabbel and his companions, then commission the rebuilding of the temple itself under the guidance of qualified Levites. Ezra 3: 11 and 12 then record a puzzling occurrence: “And all the people gave a great shout of praise to the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid.  But many of the older priests and Levites and family heads, who had seen the former temple, wept aloud when they saw the foundation of this temple being laid, while many others shouted for joy (NIV).”

Commentators are mixed on this.  One school of thought is that the elders wept because they were overcome with emotion as a hope which they had never believed they would see fulfilled was happening.  Others, however, think the tears were of sorrow, as this new temple, was missing the former glory of the one lost.

The latter is an especially interesting take, as it seems to have some evidence when we compare the events of Ezra to those of Leviticus 9 and I Kings 8. In the Leviticus passage (verses  23-24)  it recounts that  “. . . When they [Moses and Aaron] came out, they blessed the people; and the glory of the Lord appeared to all the people. Fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed the burnt offering and the fat portions on the altar. And when all the people saw it, they shouted for joy and fell face down.” When Solomon’s Temple is completed, and the Ark installed, Kings states: When the priests withdrew from the Holy Place, the cloud filled the temple of the Lord.  And the priests could not perform their service because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled his temple (verses 10-11 NIV).”  No similar “presence of God” is recorded in Ezra.  

Zerubbabel builds the House, but presence of God seems to be missing.  Would this not be a cause for the elders to mourn?  Their tears are especially understandable when they remember the glory of God in the previous temple.

So why no fire, smoke, or cloud?  Is it that this temple is the work of Cyrus? Is it because the structure is not yet complete?   Or, is it more fundamental – that the fullness of the prophecy of Ezekiel was not of a reestablishment of the physical temple (though that was still God sanctioned), or of an earthly Jerusalem, or of a nation just of Jacob’s seed; but of a spiritual temple, a celestial city, and a nation that was of all the seed of Adam? That God’s presence at sacrifice was no longer to be that of sheep and goats   – but with the ultimate sacrifice of the Lamb of God on the altar of the cross? (John 19:30)

Padre

 

 

 

“He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord.”

When I  was a teenager, I had one of those little experiences, which had longer lasting, and BIG effects.  I was on a school trip to the Smithsonian in Washington D.C. and in a cabinet there was a small copper alloy ring.  It bore a simple inscription: “Belongs to Jotham.” This little ring opened my eyes to the reality of scripture.  Yes, I had been a Christian since I was eleven , but in the immature state of my faith, it was the “evidence” presented before my very eyes, that these were more than stories, that began my growth and desire to search deeper.

So who was this Jotham, that sped me on my journey?   2 kings 15 tells us: “In the second year of Pekah the son of Remali′ah, king of Israel, Jotham the son of Uzzi′ah, king of Judah, began to reign. He was twenty-five years old when he began to reign, and he reigned sixteen years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Jeru′sha the daughter of Zadok. And he did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, according to all that his father Uzzi′ah had done.  Nevertheless the high places were not removed; the people still sacrificed and burned incense on the high places. He built the upper gate of the house of the Lord. Now the rest of the acts of Jotham, and all that he did, are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Judah?  In those days the Lord began to send Rezin the king of Syria and Pekah the son of Remali′ah against Judah.  Jotham slept with his fathers, and was buried with his fathers in the city of David his father; and Ahaz his son reigned in his stead (32-38 RSV).” 

Jotham King of Judah, was the son of King Uzziah and the grandson of Zadok the priest. He was a reformer for good, though he was not fully successful in his endeavors.

2 Chronicles 27: 1-9 (RSV) presents him as follows:  “Jotham was twenty-five years old when he began to reign, and he reigned sixteen years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Jeru′shah the daughter of Zadok. And he did what was right in the eyes of the Lord according to all that his father Uzzi′ah had done—only he did not invade the temple of the Lord. But the people still followed corrupt practices. He built the upper gate of the house of the Lord, and did much building on the wall of Ophel. Moreover he built cities in the hill country of Judah, and forts and towers on the wooded hills. He fought with the king of the Ammonites and prevailed against them. And the Ammonites gave him that year a hundred talents of silver, and ten thousand cors of wheat and ten thousand of barley. The Ammonites paid him the same amount in the second and the third years. So Jotham became mighty, because he ordered his ways before the Lord his God. Now the rest of the acts of Jotham, and all his wars, and his ways, behold, they are written in the Book of the Kings of Israel and Judah. He was twenty-five years old when he began to reign, and he reigned sixteen years in Jerusalem.  And Jotham slept with his fathers, and they buried him in the city of David; and Ahaz his son reigned in his stead.”

These two accounts reveal that “he did what was right in the eyes of the Lord . . . [and] he ordered his ways before the Lord his God.” Here is a young man, who wanted to serve God.  He was successful in his dealings with the Ammonites, and build forts and on the frontier.  He did building work in the temple, and did not defile the temple as his father had done.  He served God, and did not usurp the power of the priesthood (again as his father had done).  He was unable to rid Judah of false worship, however, and growing pressure from the northern kingdom of Israel did not help him in this.  

Jotham of the line of Judah, and descendant of David; Jotham grandson of the first High Priest of the First Temple, was a man flawed but dedicated.  His legacy to me was at first a little bronze ring, and in the end a model of dedication.  I hope too, that some day it might be said of me “he did what was right in the eyes of the Lord.”

Padre

jotham

Mistaken Identity

There is an old story of a rabbi who was walking down the street when a woman jumped on him and started to scream and punch him. After a while she noticed that the rabbi was not who she thought he was. She had thought he was her husband, who had left her destitute some years earlier.  On seeing her mistake she was overcome with shame and burst into tears.

The rabbi got to his feet, dusted himself off and went to comfort her. He said: “Please don’t cry, you did not beat me, but the man who has hurt you.”

In many ways we are like her. We get angry with people, but when we are honest about it, we are really only angry who we thought they were. We make expectations of people that may be unrealistic – what we  hope them to be, what we wish them to be, and sometimes what no human can be.

It is this attempt to put our trusts, hopes, and desires into people that will always let us down.  Each of us has been born with a God-shaped vacuum in our souls.  So many of us try to fill it with things, or with people.  The result will always be the same – disappointment.  Disappointment can became anger.  Anger can turn the hatred.  Hated can end up, as with our rabbi’s assailant, with embarrassment, self-loathing and tears.

Let us overcome this propensity to mistake identity, by truly seeking the only One who can meet our needs (John 1: 9-13; John 14:6).

Padre

 

No Power Of My Own

I am often weary.  I have failings. I make mistakes on a daily basis. I love, but often fall short even in this.

It is so easy to fall into the twin traps of pride (“I can do this myself”) and of despair (“I have failed again”).

Lord, when I am proud – show me the truth, when I fail – show me the way.  It is you that can and will lift me, and it is you who remind me to be humble.

I have no power of my own.

Padre

 

Empty Chairs (Remembering Norway)

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One of the most moving pieces from the musical, Les Misérables is “Empty Chairs At Empty Tables.”  “Empty chairs at empty tables where my friends will meet no more.
Oh my friends, my friends don’t ask me -What your sacrifice was for -Empty chairs at empty tables -Where my friend will sing no more.”

Empty chairs are indeed a powerful symbol of loss.  Of loss to individuals, and of communities at large.  It is fitting then for Anthony Gormley to have used the image in his commission to remember Norway’s Holocaust victims.  These large cast iron chairs are striking as one walks at the base of the fortress overlooking Oslo Fjord.

It is the anniversary of the deportations (20 November  1942- 24 February 1943) with the 26th of November marking the biggest single deportation. In all 768 members of Norway’s Jewish community were victims of this act, of which there were only 28 survivors.

Norway’s small Jewish community was at the time only about 80 years old. There were only three synagogues, and these were at least in part assimilated and were named in Norwegian.  Nonetheless, the loss of these 740 souls was a Norwegian national tragedy, and part of a greater tragedy to Judaism, and to all humanity.  It is remarkable what costs can be incurred by hate!

I attended a seminar of European Holocaust educators a few years ago, and one of the most memorable presentations was by a Swedish colleague who presented this sad tale of Norway.  In it she used the story of Kathe, a teenage caught up in this terror.  She [Kathe] was in her own words – Norwegian.  On her registration form, when asked when she had come to Norway, she responded “alltid vært i Norge (always been in Norway).”  Her loss, and the loss of her friends and family – those empty chairs at empty tables – is a challenge to each of us today.

Even more sad, is the fact that her community was not alone in this horror.  Jewish communities across Europe suffered the same fate.  These are remembered at Yad Vashem in the Valley of the Communities, the inscription says much more than I can, and what it lacks, let the empty chairs speak.

Padre  valley-of-the-communities-monument-dedication